Rowan-Salisbury School System thanks community partners, touts success
SALISBURY — Bob Harris shows up at Overton Elementary School every Friday without fail.
Sometimes he tutors students who have fallen behind. Other times, he reads with them.
No matter what he’s doing, Harris is there as a mentor and a friend.
Principal Betty Tunks considers him the school’s guardian angel.
“I’m just so thankful for him,” she said.
Officials with the Rowan-Salisbury School System expressed their gratitude to Harris and people like him during the annual report to the community breakfast Tuesday.
Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom presented Harris with the Partners for Student Success award.
“Each year we ask our schools to nominate an individual or organization that during the past calendar year has demonstrated outstanding service,” she said.
Harris reluctantly began volunteering at Overton six years ago after his church, First Presbyterian, adopted the school.
“I remember walking up to the school after agreeing to go and thinking ‘What can I do here? I’m so unqualified,’ ” he said. “Because of my background as a construction worker, my attitude toward children was that they interfered with what I was trying to do.”
Although Harris wasn’t particularly excited about volunteering at the school, it soon became a labor of love.
“I realized to be effective I had to listen and learn and pay attention to who I was there servicing, which has been first-graders from the get-go,” he said.
It didn’t take long for Harris to become an advocate for the students, opening up his mind and heart to anything they needed.
Tunks said she’s called on Harris to help when the family of a student with leukemia couldn’t afford their utility bill and when the school’s supply of uniforms was depleted, but children still needed the clothing.
“There are times when we’ve been desperate and I just made a call,” she said. “He always finds the resources we need.”
Harris said he gets as much as he gives.
“One of the benefits if you are an advocate for the students rather than an authority figure is that you quickly become part of their community, which is very welcoming,” he said.
When Overton has needed more volunteers, Harris has recruited fellow church members.
“He’s asked Communities in Schools for hard data to present to them to show that it really does make a difference,” Tunks said. “He loves the children.”
Harris said he couldn’t do any of the work at Overton without his faith.
“It’s not me, it’s Jesus Christ,” he said. “It’s not my nature, it’s his.”
Grissom also presented the Superintendent’s Award to the Blanche & Julian Robertson Family Foundation on Tuesday. Executive Director David Setzer accepted the honor.
“This special award is given each year to an organization or a person who just continually goes beyond the call of duty to help us,” she said.
The foundation has awarded grants to the school system that have helped expand its technology and various classroom initiatives.
“They understand the importance of advancing technology to achieve student success,” Grissom said. “They get as excited as I do about new and innovative programs.
“I don’t know what we would do without the Robertson Foundation.”
The sixth annual report to the community breakfast, sponsored by Rowan Regional Medical Center, gave school officials a chance to share the district’s progress with its community partners.
“I’m proud of the Rowan-Salisbury School System and all the accomplishments we have achieved over this last year under the leadership of our superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom,” said Dr. Jim Emerson, chairman of the Board of Education.
Grissom went through a long list of accomplishments, pointing out a hefty amount of grants the district has received and touting its technology initiatives.
“Our school system continues to be a leader in technology,” she said.
Grissom said the school system was named one of the top 10 school districts in the United States in technology. It has also received an Apple distinguished program award for technology for three consecutive years.
Grissom pointed out academic achievements including the lowest dropout rate in 10 years at 3.36 percent and a graduation rate of 81 percent that surpasses the state average.
“We will continue to move forward in examining our graduate and dropout rates,” she said.
Twenty-one of the district’s 35 schools met or exceeded state performance growth standards this year, and seven of those were named schools of distinction.
Grissom pointed out Carson High School Principal Kelly Withers for being named regional principal of the year.
All of the district’s schools gained Energy Star recognition this year for going green.
Grissom recognized North Rowan High School for being named one of the top 10 schools in the state for progress in digital learning for the implementation of it’s one-to-one mobile learning program.
The school system recently received top honors from the N.C. School Boards Association, being named the grand prize winner for excellence in educational programs.
“Those are just a few of the things that have been happening,” Grissom said.
A little help
Grissom attributed the school system’s successes to its many partnerships, including the YMCA of Rowan County, Rowan Regional, Food Lion, Rowan County United Way and Communities in Schools of Rowan County.
“We cannot do this without you because we cannot educate our students in isolation,” she said. “It is us, not me or the board or our schools, but it’s all of us in the community working together.
“This breakfast is to honor, thank and celebrate you.”
School board Vice Chairwoman Jean Kennedy called the breakfast a great way to start the day.
“We’ve all had the opportunity to come together to share this brief hour celebrating, recognizing, applauding and reviewing a school year that exemplifies what an amazing school system we have and what a fantastic community we are all fortunate to be a part of,” she said.
Kennedy said the community must continue working together to thrive.
“That’s from the top down, and we’re going to extend that hand to our commissioners as well,” she said, referring to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. “Collectively, we as a community can continue to move Rowan-Salisbury schools forward.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.